by Rabbi Mordechai Levin
In the town of Zippori in the heart of the Lower Galilee, a street peddler was heard, crying out, "Who wishes to buy the elixir of life?" (Vayikra Rabba 16:2). Rabbi Yannai (3rd Century) was sitting in his academy studying when he heard the peddler's voice. He went out on his balcony to see what the man was selling, but he could see nothing. And so he sent one of his students to bring the peddler to his study.
As the peddler entered, Yannai said, "Come here, show me what it is that you have to sell." The peddler replied, "What I have to sell is not required by you, nor by people like you." But the Rabbi pressed him, and finally the peddler drew a Book of Psalms out of his satchel. He opened the book and showed the rabbi the passage that states, "Who is the man who desires life?" (Psalm 34:13), and then the passage that immediately follows: "Keep your tongue from evil; depart from evil and do good."
Rabbi Yannai, then said, "All my life I have read this passage, but did not know how to explain it until this peddler came and made it clear to me. Now I see that the same idea is also expressed by King Solomon, who proclaimed in a proverb, "He who guards his mouth and his tongue guards his soul from trouble." (Proverbs 21:33).
What did the peddler actually teach Rabbi Yannai? Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke of Nikolsburg (1726-1778) explained that Rabbi Yannai understood that a person who desires life needs to guard his tongue. But Rabbi Yannai took that to mean that the only way to guard one's tongue from evil is to become a hermit. He thought that cleanliness of speech required being somewhat anti-social. He believed that mixing with society, having friends and engaging in conversation, was a sure formula for not being able to live up to the standards of "Who is the man who desires life."
Rav Yannai was taught the real lesson and interpretation of the biblical verse through the words of the peddler. "If the peddler can tell me that a person such as he can be careful about Lashon Hara (derogatory or damaging comments, gossip), then my approach must change. I now realize that a person can mix with society, talk, be sociable and still be careful not to speak Lashon Hara."
Judaism challenges us to always use our faculty of speech in positive and productive ways. We are challenged to be conscious of what we say and to improve our speech.
This challenge involves asking ourselves some questions. What are our conversations about? Do we make cynical comments? Do we look at people with an eye towards their negative sides or do we see their positive sides? Do we give others the benefit of the doubt?
Someone wrote: Those with small minds talk about others. Those with ordinary minds talk about events. Those with great minds talk about good ideas. And those with the best minds put the ideas into positive and creative action.
"Who is the man who desires life? Keep your tongue from evil; depart from evil and do good."
The following lecture was delivered by CISA's Director for the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba's Annual Women's Endowment Fund Luncheon on May 10, 2012.
Good Afternoon. I would like to begin by thanking Marsha Cowan and the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba for giving me this beautiful honour to speak to you today about a subject that is very important to me and also to be part of promoting this wonderful fund that supports women and their children in our community. It really is a very great honour and a privilege to be given this opportunity today and I thank you for it.
Today’s presentation was not an easy one for me to write. Trying to be inspirational over a lovely lunch in the Provencher Ballroom about a subject as destructive and dangerous as antisemitism is a challenge indeed. However, talking about education and scholarship and how we might work together to create a more humane future is a pleasure.
How does one uproot a phenomenon that is over 2000 years old, so deeply embedded in Western culture, and so protean in nature that it continues to evolve outside its European context? Some say it cannot be done. I believe that there is good reason to be optimistic today: for the first time in over 10 centuries, we have youth who are not, since birth, indoctrinated by theological teachings inherently biased and hostile toward Judaism and the Jewish people. The significance of this new secularized reality cannot be under-estimated. In the West, we live in increasingly diverse societies and in Canada we at least claim to value the concept of universal human rights. All of this is good news for those of us intent on removing antisemitism from our society.
However I must tell you the equally important bad news: based upon a decade of experience teaching university students, most of whom are not Jewish, I can tell you that while the dominant Christian stereotypes of previous generations are reduced in power the economic mythologies and conspiratorial themes are gaining ground. These antisemitic tropes are well-established Western myths too but they are now reactivated in relation to the Jewish state, in other words all of this supposed Jewish control and manipulation is done in the service of Israel. I have not met a single student in ten years who is unfamiliar with this anti-Jewish mythology and that should tell us, unfortunately, how common and widespread it is.
The question must be asked: what other people is accused of killing God, working against the interests of common humanity, generation after generation, of running a worldwide conspiracy to control and then destroy the planet, of starting and financing wars today and in the past, of controlling world financial institutions and the international market? I ask my students: are Aboriginal peoples accused of these things, Africans, Americans of African descent, the Chinese, Indians, the Roma, the Scots, Arabs, Persians? No. The truth is that no other people is accused of these things—no other people in history has been perceived to have this kind of cosmic power, this need for world control, and this degree of bad faith and evil intention. Why? Why is this the case? Why the Jewish People?
For an explanation, we must look to history. For millennia the Jewish people have faced hostility toward their unique tradition of ethical monotheism, with its elaborate structure of 613 laws and all sorts of proscriptions designed to promote good behaviour. Judaism is a religious tradition that has often been at odds with its surrounding environment as Jews have for most of their history lived under foreign rule in their own land or as a minority in other lands. Many forms of anti-Jewish hostility have existed in antiquity, and Bible tells us that this hostility led to war and even to genocidal violence. In the history of the Islamic world, hostility against Jews and Judaism led to periodic violence and to a permanent second-class position in all Muslim societies. Dictated by Sharia law, this dhimmi status was also shared with Christians. Both were non-Muslim subjects of a Muslim state.
Antisemitism, by contrast, is not a common form of human hostility or even hatred, or a form of racism the way people think it is. It is a unique, complex, millennial phenomenon that few people actually understand. Antisemitism is the specific product of the rancorous divorce between Judaism and the Jesus movement of the first century, which evolves into what we know as Christianity. The impetus of antisemitism is theological—that is its uniqueness and its strength. The character of “the Jew” (which I place in quotation marks to distinguish this character from real existing Jews) is a fiction produced by theology. And augmented by European mythologies that grow out of this same theological tradition—the accusations of the blood libel and host desecration are two examples. In theocratic societies, like those of pre-modern Europe, theology affects every aspect of life. The rigid Christian conceptualization of the Jews as a deicide people, those who rejected and killed Christ, led to the systematic exclusion of Jews, as a collectivity, from mainstream Christian society, to their deep and abiding marginalization, eventual demonization, and to their uniquely peculiar positioning in Western societies as middlemen associated with the despised money occupations. What we see in the history of antisemitism is a compounding of stigmatization and hatred, which over time results in the production of a composite character that integrates religious and economic themes in a powerfully reinforcing manner.
As my second book illustrates, the theology of the Church and its teachings of contempt for Jews and Judaism resulted in the construction of what I term the antisemitic imagination during the period of the High Middle Ages (1000-1300 CE), a phenomenon that continues to evolve over centuries and remains with us today. The continent of Europe was Christianized by approximately 1000 CE, albeit unevenly and idiosyncratically in many places. It is during these specific centuries that antisemitism becomes a popular mass phenomenon and the character of “the Jew” enters the collective imagination of Christian Europe. This vivid, image-obsessed imagination was Catholic and it was fed incessantly, both visually and aurally, through painting, sculpture, woodcuts, reliefs on buildings, passion plays, religious holidays and services, stories, sermons, liturgy, folk-tales, hymns and songs.
This medieval Christian imagination had a character at its center that appeared to have the power and determination to control the world, to manipulate and control rulers, and to influence events, thereby wreaking utter havoc in society. That character, that figment of the European imagination, was “the Jew.” For Europeans, he was the tormentor and killer of Christ—the Savior of universal humanity, according to Christian theology—who continued until the end of time to work against the Church, against its Gospel and its congregations. He was the ritual murderer and host desecrator who compulsively re-enacted the crucifixion through these homicidal “Jewish rituals”; the well-poisoner and the magician, both of whom were in league with Satan in a war against the Church (remember John’s gospel in which Jesus himself is purported to say that the Jews are the children of the devil). And, of course, “the Jew” was a usurer who recalled Judas Iscariot, the tax collector and archetypal traitor who betrayed his friend Jesus with a kiss, and sold him out to the Temple authorities for thirty pieces of silver. It is this caricature of “the Jew” that fueled the antisemitic imagination, and it is by the appearance of this character that we know we are in the presence of antisemitism and not a more common form of xenophobia or hostility.
This character that Europe produces in the 12th century (and begins to export in the 16th century) is remarkably consistent across time and space. Regardless of European region, religious denomination, language, or nationality, the general characteristics and qualities attributed to “the Jew” are static and monotonous: he is conspiratorial, manipulative, dishonest, vengeful, hateful, unrelentingly cruel and unforgiving, he is arrogant, blind to the truth, corrupted, especially by money and power, treasonous, traitorous, criminal, and at bottom, motivated by evil.
Antisemitism has been exported along with other forms of Western culture to all the places Europeans have settled. In the last half of the 20th century antisemitism was introduced into the Arab world by Nazi Germany and later by the Soviet Union and we are seeing the results of this Western propaganda today in Arab media, school curricula, and unfortunately in general thinking about the conflict with Israel. In the last several decades, the antisemitism of Europe, and of Nazi Germany specifically, has been Islamized, translated, in other words made native to the culture, sensibilities, and politics of the Islamic and Arab worlds. The antisemitic themes unique to Europe—such as Jewish conspiracy, child-killing, bloodlust, nihilism and cosmic evil—are now common currency on the Arab street, finding their way into the culture from cartoons to sermons.
The imagined characteristics, thought to be inherent in “the Jew,” whether because of religion or later, because of biology, remain consistent across time and now they appear to be consistent across cultures. Today those imaginary qualities are increasingly attributed to “the Zionist,” or to Zionist Jews (for those who make a distinction between Jews), or to the Zionist political lobby or to diaspora Jewry in general, which supports the State of Israel.
Since 2000, antisemitism has become a truly globalized phenomenon and for the first time in history, it is flourishing outside a Christian cultural context. The Internet and satellite television are the main vehicles by which antisemitism travels today. This is a worrying development and, quite frankly, it is not given the attention it deserves. The fact that this should be the case only 67 years after the murder of six million Jews and the wholesale destruction of their thousand-year old civilization on the continent of Europe is even more troubling. I believe we truly are in the position to ask what exactly the world—and the Western world in particular—has learned about antisemitism given Hitler’s Holocaust. Very little, I am afraid.
That brings us to CISA—the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, which I founded in 2010, to ensure that this phenomenon is introduced into university curricula (where it does not currently exist) and placed on the scholarly agenda in as many fields as possible (it is almost entirely absent). To ensure that human rights activists and scholars, including those working down the street at the CMHR, know what antisemitism is and include this millennial hatred in their work and concerns, never mind in the exhibits of the museum that will teach our children about the dangers of hatred and demonization. Antisemitism must be included in the content of this museum. The Holocaust gallery must reflect historical reality, which is to say—the gallery must clearly and accurately depict and explain the systematic destruction of European Jewry during the years 1933-1945, and not conflate this historical specificity with the crimes of the Nazi regime during World War II.
We must create a university program that foregrounds the subject of Antisemitism as a central phenomenon in the history of Western culture—one that culminates in the enormous Jewish and European tragedy that was the Shoah and unfortunately is growing today.
I cannot stress to you enough the transformative effects of this education on my students. They enter the course I teach called, The History of Antisemitism and the Holocaust, knowing nothing about Judaism, the Jewish people, Zionism, Israel, Antisemitism, or even much about the Holocaust—they know about Hitler; they know about Nazism. So the course is a revelation for these students, who may not like the amount of reading or my stringent standards, but are fascinated to discover from where all of these stereotypes about Jews come, and to learn how little Hitler actually invents, how in fact Nazi Germany was a link, a terrible and uniquely destructive link, in the antisemitic chain that in fact persists today.
They begin to understand the news they are reading, the debates about the museum, how important the Jewish state is to the Jewish people and how understandable that is especially given Jewish history and the Holocaust; some even understand that it is wrong to blame the Arabs for antisemitism—we deal with Islam at the end of the course not at the beginning or in the middle—because it is a European invention. However, by April, after spending 72 hours with me on this subject, they understand that antisemitism is now a key corrosive factor in the battle between Israel and the Arab world—they now recognize it when they see it and hear it—and they know that anyone who cares about peace in the region must work to remove antisemitism from the conflict.
Our last class is left open-ended, without a conclusion, because antisemitism is a living force that is expanding today. I tell them that when I took the course with Lionel Steiman in the late 1980s we didn’t deal with Islam, there was no Internet and no satellite television, and we concluded with Soviet Antisemitism and the neo-Nazi fringe who distributed their propaganda through the mail. That is how profoundly things have changed in 20 years and we need to re-adjust our thinking and our priorities accordingly.
Let me say that this history, the history of the Holocaust and of Antisemitism, is not only Jewish history, it isn’t owned by Jews, and it shouldn’t be expected to be of interest only to Jews—that is part of the problem I am desperately trying to correct, in fact. This history also belongs to people of German extraction, of European heritage, and to Christians regardless of denomination. If you look at CISA’s logo, the tree with the black roots and three white branches, you will understand my view of the dark history of the Church in relation to the Jewish people, which is responsible for antisemitism, but also the hope I have for the future.
I believe Interfaith work can be productive between Christians and Jews but it must be honest and principled and based upon a solid knowledge of the history of Antisemitism and the Holocaust and it must acknowledge the culpability of the Church and its anti-Judaic theology in unleashing both. Christians engaging in this reparative work must avoid facile references to The Golden Rule, which are offensive, however well intentioned. Instead, they need to face and bear the terrible, difficult, and uncomfortable truth at the heart of the Jewish-Christian relationship. The sad fact of the matter is that the Holocaust would not have occurred were it not for 20 centuries of Christian antisemitic conditioning. This is precisely why I believe the millennial betrayal of Christian ethics—over and over and over again—in relation to the Jewish people is a tragedy of epic proportions.
In conclusion, please allow me to reprise my original question: how does one uproot a phenomenon that is over 2000 years old, so deeply embedded in Western culture, and so protean in nature that it continues to evolve outside its European context?
Some say it cannot be done.
I say: through scholarship and education, let us, together, begin.
Thank you very much.
Remarks by Hannah Rosenthal
US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, Department of State
Hotel Fort Garry, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
May 7, 2012
Good evening. Thank you for inviting me here today. It is an honor to be here as a representative of the United States Government and admirer of your work. The Canadian Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism is one of only six institutions in the entire world dedicated to the scholarly study of anti-Semitism. This is an extremely important mandate. I have seen, throughout my travels as the United States Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism, that anti-Semitism continues to spread hatred and intolerance in new and old forms. Only by working together to develop systematic and concrete ways of promoting acceptance and respect can we hope to overcome this evil.
Let me assure you of the unwavering commitment of the Obama Administration to combat hate and promote tolerance in our world. The President began his administration speaking out against intolerance as a global ill. Over the past three years, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has also made human rights and the need to respect diversity an integral part of U.S. foreign policy—from the human rights of LGBT people to women’s rights, to international religious freedom.
The Obama Administration has signaled a new path that embraces a vision of a world based on mutual interests and mutual respect; a world that honors the dignity of all human beings. Unfortunately, this vision of the world is still just that – a vision. The recent shooting outside a Jewish school in Toulouse, France – a shooting which left four Jews, including three children, dead and happened just days after the murder of three French soldiers of North African descent in the nearby city of Montauban – is a solemn reminder that there is still a lot of work to be done. My thoughts, Secretary Clinton’s thoughts, and President Obama’s thoughts are all with the victims and their families in this time of grief and national mourning as France comes to terms with this deadly attack.
We are attempting—through diplomacy, public messaging and grassroots programs all over the world—to confront and combat hatred in all its ugly forms, whether it is religious, ethnic, racial, or if it is hatred against someone’s sexual orientation, political opinions, or nationality. Anti-Semitism is one such form of hatred.
As a child of a Holocaust survivor, anti-Semitism is something very personal to me. My father was arrested – on Kristallnacht, the unofficial pogrom that many think started the Holocaust – and sent with many of his congregants to prison and then to Buchenwald. He was the lucky one – every other person in his family perished at Auschwitz. I have dedicated my life to eradicating anti-Semitism and intolerance with a sense of urgency and passion that only my father could give me.
I have been on the job for two years now and I can tell you, anti-Semitism is not history, it is news. This is an important message—one that I try to emphasize wherever I go and with everyone I speak to. For this reason, I and the United States Government, welcome Canada’s recent efforts to strengthen its fight against global anti-Semitism and promote religious freedom for all peoples. Canada is a country that rightfully prides itself on tolerance and inclusivity, and is a reliable leader in the global fight for human rights. First, we note with great satisfaction that Canada has committed to open an Office of International Religious Freedom. We look forward to collaborating with the Canadian Government on all issues of religious freedom, including fighting anti-Semitism. Secondly, we welcome a recent report by the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism. The report’s conclusions echo what I have seen around the world – that while traditional forms of anti-Semitism are “far from extinct” in Canada, “the main and growing problem in Canada,” and, I would argue, around the world, is the emergence of a “new anti-Semitism.”
This persistence of traditional forms of anti-Semitism stems from the fact that hatred is passed from one generation to the next, updated to reflect current events. We are all familiar with ongoing hostile acts such as the defacing of property and desecration of cemeteries with anti-Semitic graffiti. We have even seen this on schools and synagogues in Montreal. There are still accusations of blood libel, which are morphing from the centuries-old accusations by the Church that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood for rituals, to accusations that Jews kidnap children to steal their organs. Conspiracy theories also continue to flourish: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion continues to be a best seller in many, many countries, and taught to religious students as truth. Moreover, demonized depictions of Jews, particularly cartoons, continue to proliferate in media throughout the world.
Canada is far from immune to this phenomenon. Last year, in response to a new museum’s decision to have a permanent exhibit on the Holocaust and a temporary exhibit on the Holodomor – a tragic Soviet starvation campaign that cost the lives of millions –the Toronto-based Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association distributed offensive postcards across Canada that could be construed as characterizing the supporters of the permanent Holocaust exhibit as pigs. The postcard featured a pig on the cover of George Orwell’s novel, Animal Farm, whispering into the ear of a sheep and saying, “All galleries are equal but some galleries are more equal than others.” The UCCLA denied that the pig was in any way intended to represent a Jew, but depicting Jews as pigs is a centuries-old anti-Semitic mainstay which has received new life today in Muslim countries where students are taught that Jews are the descendants of apes and pigs. Sadly, it appears that even some Canadians still fail to recognize the danger of such hateful, insulting, and dehumanizing imagery.
A recent report by B’nai B’rith showed that, while incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism fell in Manitoba in 2011, acts of anti-Semitic harassment increased in the province. In Manitoba, there were three separate cases last year involving violence, including an incident at Oak Park High School, where a Jewish student's hair was set on fire with a lighter. In the same month, the second case of anti-Semitic violence in Manitoba involved a male student at the University of Winnipeg. The student was accosted by another male student and told to “get that disgusting Zionist star (Star of David necklace) off.” In the third case, a 70-year-old man in Gimli was targeted for repeated harassment by a condo neighbor, said Alan Yusim, B’nai B’rith Canada’s Midwest regional director. In all, there were 78 cases of anti-Semitic harassment in Manitoba last year compared to 60 in 2010. Few were reported to police.
As troubling and persistent as traditional anti-Semitism is, we are also seeing new forms of anti-Semitism. These new forms are sometimes harder to identify. One of these phenomena is Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial is espoused by religious leaders, heads of State, such as in Iran, in academic institutions, and is a standard on hateful websites and other media outlets. As the generation of Holocaust survivors and death camp liberators reaches their eighties and nineties, the window is closing on those able to provide eyewitness accounts and thus we have a heightened sense of urgency to promote Holocaust education, and create museums and memorials as Canada is attempting to do. Together we must carry the memory and lessons of the Holocaust into the future.
The Ottawa Protocol to Combat Anti-Semitism, which Canada was the first to sign this past October, defines anti-Semitism, in part, as “denying the fact, scope, mechanisms, or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of the Nationalist Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War Two.” Holocaust denial is not simply historically inaccurate, it is anti-Semitism.
A second, disturbing trend is Holocaust glorification, which can be seen in events that openly display Nazi symbols and in the growth of neo-Nazi groups. Following a March 2011 commemoration in Latvia, a notorious neo-Nazi made blatantly anti-Semitic statements, including incitements to violence against Jews, on a television talk show. When I was in Albania two months ago, I received disturbing news that a local publisher has decided to print Mein Kampf. While we believe in and support freedom of expression, it is scary to think that Hitler’s ideas continue to resonate with some people today. Holocaust glorification is also especially virulent in Middle Eastern media, some that is state-owned and operated, which calls for a new Holocaust to finish the job. Truly bone-chilling.
A third concern is Holocaust relativism – where some governments, museums, and academic research institutions are conflating the Holocaust with other terrible events that entailed great human suffering, like the Dirty War or the Soviet regime. No one, least of all myself, wants to weigh atrocities against each other, but to group these horrific chapters of history together is not only historically inaccurate, but also misses opportunities to learn important lessons from each of these historic events, even as we reflect on universal truths about the need to defend human rights and combat hatred in all of its forms.
History must be precise – it must instruct, it must warn, and it must inspire us to learn the particular and universal values as we prepare to mend this fractured world. In 2010, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress called on the government to amend Canada’s war veteran’s allowance legislation to designate Ukrainian resistance groups as allied veterans and extend benefits to their surviving members. While these groups fought against the Soviets during World War II, some members were also complicit in Nazi crimes. In response, 100 international scholars sent an open letter to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, criticizing the proposal.
The fourth trend is the increasing tendency of blurring the lines between opposition to the policies of the State of Israel and anti-Semitism. What I hear from our diplomatic missions, and from non-governmental organizations alike, is that this happens easily and often. I want to be clear – criticism of policies of the State of Israel is not anti-Semitism. But we record huge increases in anti-Semitism whenever there are hostilities in the Middle East. This form of anti-Semitism is more difficult for many to identify. But if all Jews are held responsible for the decisions of the sovereign State of Israel, when governments like Venezuela call upon and intimidate their Jewish communities to condemn Israeli actions – this is not objecting to a policy – this is hatred or harassment of the collective Jew, or anti-Semitism.
Ruth Klein, National Director of the League for Human Rights of B’nai B’rith Canada, summarized this trend best when she said: “Whereas before the talk was of Jewish control of the media and Jewish control of the government and the financial world, the terminology now has changed. It’s Israeli control. It’s Zionist control.” These conspiracy theories are not objecting to a policy of the state of Israel, they are hatred or harassment of the collective Jew.
Natan Sharansky identified when he believes anti-Semitism crosses the line: it is anti-Semitic when Israel is demonized, held to different standards or delegitimized.
In the recently concluded UN Human Rights Council session, once again a grossly disproportionate number of the resolutions targeted Israel. Clearly, this is holding Israel to a different standard. No less, when the United Nations first passed its “Zionism is Racism” Resolution that singled out Israel as the world’s only racist country, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia was committing genocide and receiving little or no attention for their crimes against humanity. The U.S. is often the only “no” vote in international bodies where countries seem to have an obsession with singling out Israel for disproportionate condemnation. Yet there is a silver lining to this dark cloud. America’s stepped-up engagement with the United Nations, a top priority for President Barack Obama, has yielded important achievements---look at the Security Council’s recent statement condemning the attacks on Israeli diplomatic missions, the first such action in seven years. Israeli leaders tell us they are pleased we are there at the UN, not only to defend Israel against attempts to unfairly single-out the Jewish state, but also to lead the battle for greater Israeli participation.
This disproportionate focus on Israel has not, however, escaped the attention of the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism. In fact, their report explicitly recommends that the Canadian Committee of Foreign Affairs in the House of Commons investigate this phenomenon.
The fifth and final trend is the growing nationalistic movements which target ‘the other’ – be they immigrants, or religious and ethnic minorities -- in the name of protecting the identity and ‘purity’ of their nation. When this fear or hatred of the ‘other’ occurs or when people try to find a scapegoat for the instability around them, it is never good for the Jews, or for that matter, other traditionally discriminated against minorities. The history of Europe, with Russian pogroms, Nazism, and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans provides sufficient evidence. And when government officials talk about protecting a country’s purity, we’ve seen that movie before.
The State Department monitors these trends and activities in 199 countries and territories and reports on them in two major annual reports: The International Religious Freedom Report and the Human Rights Report. We will be publishing both of these reports in upcoming months. I am now also involved in developing a major training initiative for State Department employees so they can better monitor what is happening in their countries, and sensitize them to the various forms of anti-Semitism. This will make our annual reports more comprehensive, and allow us to do an even better job of monitoring and confronting anti-Semitism in all its forms. These reports tell us that many countries, including Canada, are trying to advance human rights and fight discrimination. They also tell us that there is so much more work to do. If we don’t chronicle it, if we don’t name it, we can’t fight it.
I consider reporting on intolerance to be part of the State Department’s educational role – we educate international leaders about the hate we are seeing in the world. Securing rights in law and establishing governmental institutions that enforce the rule of law is necessary, but not sufficient, to fight hate. We must ensure that human dignity echoes in both our courtrooms and classrooms. We must write these values into our constitutions and our sermons. Both our leaders and our citizens must firmly recognize and respect human dignity. If we are to succeed in using education to promote peace, we need to form partnerships with civil society leaders, teachers, and parents. Educating our young must also be our priority: they are our future, and their values and opinions form at a very early age.
No government should produce materials that are intolerant of members of any religious, racial, or ethnic group, or teach such intolerance as part of its educational curriculum. The Department of State continues to focus on this important issue and express our concern to the governments using such hateful lessons and textbooks, calling Jews the children of apes and pigs or teaching the old Tsarist forgery the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as fact. We sponsor teacher training on the Holocaust through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and with the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education – focusing on its uniqueness and its universal lessons. Recently, UNESCO held a day-long conference on comprehensive Holocaust education of which I was honored to be a part.
The United States provides training to foreign law enforcement officials, which covers crimes against vulnerable groups, including Jews, because these issues are of great concern to the U.S. We use old and new technologies to communicate with the public about human rights, tolerance and democracy. We strongly support the freedom for all people to express their views, even distasteful ones, both offline and online – but we also work to promote tolerance and to eradicate ignorance. We are enhancing our cultural and educational exchanges to showcase our civil society organizations, and to learn from the successes of other countries in confronting and combating hate in all of its forms.
Of course, it isn’t enough to study and monitor these deeply troubling trends. It is critical that we act to reverse them.
My approach to combating anti-Semitism is not just to preach to the choir, so to speak, but to join in partnership with non-Jews in condemning it – government, civil society, international institutions, business leaders, labor unions, and media.
Last summer, Secretary Clinton launched an initiative to strengthen civil society across the globe. She instructed all of us in the State Department and at our overseas posts to treat civil society as strategic partners. Partnering with opinion leaders from civil society as well as government--and building bridges among ethnic and religious groups -- is the way to change a culture from fear and negative stereotyping to acceptance and understanding, from narrow mindedness to an embrace of diversity, from hate to tolerance.
I want to note two examples of efforts I am engaged in to combat the afore-mentioned forms of anti-Semitism.
To combat Holocaust denial, I took eight leading imams, two of whom had been deniers, to Dachau and Auschwitz. My goal was to have them issue a statement condemning Holocaust denial.
When we arrived at Dachau, Germany’s first concentration camp, the imams were overcome with the pictures they saw and immediately went to the ground in prayer at the sculpture commemorating the six million Jews exterminated. At that moment, I knew I was watching history being made. All of the passers-by, tourists, and docents stopped in their tracks to witness the spontaneous prayer of these leading imams. And at Auschwitz, it was as overwhelming for them, and, for some, transformational. We were walking amidst ash and bone fragments from the 1.5 million Jews exterminated there – solely because of who they were. We were facing the fact that unfettered and unanswered hatred can indeed create an Auschwitz. All the imams had their own catharsis there, and together, they produced a statement strongly condemning Holocaust denial and all other forms of anti-Semitism.
They are now urging colleagues and schools to join their statement. Some are planning to take their youth on the same trip, to become witnesses to history, to teach the power of hatred, and the power that condemnation can have to stop hatred. And we are now busy planning another trip with imams from the Middle East this summer, hoping they too will sign the original statement their colleagues produced.
My colleague Farah Pandith, the Special Representative to Muslim Communities, and I also launched a virtual campaign called “2011 Hours Against Hate,” using Facebook. We are asking young people around the world to pledge a number of hours to volunteer to help or serve a population different than their own. We ask them to work with people who may look different, or pray differently or live differently. For example, a young Jew might volunteer time to read books at a Muslim pre-school, or a Russian Orthodox at a Catholic clinic, or a Hindu at a Baha’i food pantry. We want to encourage them to walk a mile in another person’s shoes.
The campaign was, in fact, so successful that we continued it into 2012. Thanks to a group of British non-governmental organizations, we are now also partnering with the London Olympic and Paralympic Games! In January, the London Olympic and Paralympics approved their application to have 2012 Hours Against Hate branded with the Olympics logo. We can now leverage the energy surrounding the 2012 Olympics to encourage athletes and fans alike to participate in combating hate and pledging their time to help or serve someone who is different from them.
Farah and I have met hundreds of young people – students and young professionals – in Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia. We traveled and met with students in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Spain – countries that in their histories celebrated Jews and Muslims co-existing and thriving together. We then went on to meet with youth and interfaith leaders in Saudi, Jordan Lebanon, Greece, the United Kingdom, and Albania. We discussed the importance of strengthening mutual respect and understanding among different religious and ethnic groups. What we found everywhere we traveled was that these young people wanted to DO something. The campaign quickly took off and developed a life of its own, with mayors from Cordoba, Spain, to Istanbul, Turkey, to Montevideo, Uruguay, adopting it for their own communities as an organizing tool to promote coexistence.
So while I fight anti-Semitism, I am also aware that hate is hate. Nothing justifies it – not economic instability, not international events, not a soldier mistakenly burning a Koran.
When history records this chapter, I hope it will reflect our efforts to build a peaceful, fair, just, free world where people defend universal human rights and dignity. Sometimes when I talk about fighting hatred, I am dismissed as pushing a “soft” agenda. That is wrong. Those who reject the promotion of mutual respect and coexistence will run up against some hard facts. Unless we confront hate, unless leaders take it on as a threat to healthy politics and healthy societies, they will fail to achieve either.
Therefore, together, we must confront and combat the many forms of hatred today. Where there is hatred born of ignorance, we must teach and inspire. Where there is hatred born of blindness, we must expose people to a larger world of ideas. We must reach out, especially to youth, so they can see beyond their immediate circumstances. Where there is hatred whipped up by irresponsible leaders, we must call them out and answer as strongly as we can – and make their message totally unacceptable to all people of conscience. The Jewish tradition tells us that “you are not required to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
Thank you again for inviting me here to speak before you. And thank you, most importantly, for being a part of the solution.